How to solve the issue of women doing more ‘dead-end’ work tasks
Lise Vesterlund felt she was “spread too thin” at work, but it was only when the economist started discussing it with friends that she realized the source of the problem — “non-promotable tasks.”
Vesterlund is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Economics at University of Pittsburgh. He coined this term along with Laurie Weingart, Brenda Peyser, and Linda Babcock. Together they define “a “non-promotable taskAs a job that “matters for your company, but does not advance your career,
The academics and MJ Tocci (a legal consultant who died in 2014) began meeting regularly more than ten years ago to talk about how they felt at work. They formed “The No Club”
The title of their book, The No Club: Putting an End to Women’s Dead-End Work, was inspired by this.
These non-promotable tasks don’t have to be done in isolation.
Vesterlund explained to CNBC via phone that these tasks include mentoring graduate students and acting as an advisor for committees. She also reviews work in academic journals. Although Vesterlund was benefiting from this, it also took Vesterlund away form her academic research core.
Vesterlund stated that Vesterlund worked later in the evening and continued her work until her kids woke up. Vesterlund stated that her “non-promotable” work required so much of her that she could not protect both my research and teaching time. She had to back up with lots of work.
These four academics talk not only about how they came to realise that this was a problem in their lives, but also discuss the impact this has on women working at all levels of the company and the reasons why it is so.
One consultancy company’s study found that women spend on average 200 more hours a year on non-promotable jobs than men, which is equivalent to a month of “dead end” work.
So, why is this happening and how can we combat it?
Vesterlund with her co-authors carried out experiments to examine how group decisions are made. This was in an attempt to understand why women tend not be promoted.
They were specifically looking for scenarios in which everyone wants to complete a task, but would prefer someone else to do it. So, it depended on volunteers.
The researchers found that women were more likely to accept these jobs in mixed-gender groups than their male counterparts.
Vesterlund stated, “So, what this research pointed out is that the reason or at least a significant contributing factor to women doing such work is that they all expect them do so.”
Her argument was that awareness about the problem is one of the best ways to help women get rid of this stress.
Vesterlund explained that naming the issue to describe the problem that “derails the careers of all these females” is an important first step. She said it is necessary to acknowledge that not all tasks are created equal. That some tasks have less value and that those jobs tend to be assigned to women. This is what is stopping them from succeeding.
She stated that organizations can also benefit from spreading awareness about this topic, as non-promotable work is not just given to employees who are “objective the least,” but to the most skilled workers.
Vesterlund stated that one way to move from delegating tasks to volunteers was to choose names from the hat.
Encouragement of organizations to keep track of the allocations and assignments not related to promotion could be a way for management “to hold them somewhat accountable”.
Although she admitted there were organizations out of control, she stated that it was possible to make changes. However, spreading awareness about the problem would encourage coworkers to not give their bad work to women.
Vesterlund stressed that it was important that women also understand that the expectations of doing the work are internalized.
It could prove beneficial to not raise your hand immediately in meetings when you are asked to volunteer for tasks.
Vesterlund had met her co-authors at an organization that was teaching women how to read the body language and conduct research on male colleagues in meetings. When there was a call for volunteers, many people looked disconnected and checked their phones. The organization tried to get women to follow the example of men, rather than internalizing everyone else’s expectations.
Vesterlund admitted that she was unsure how raising awareness about this issue in organizations would be possible. However, she stated that it would allow her to “keep accountable for my ‘yeses” and act as an ear for potential problems.
She stated that when you say “yes” to something, your implicitly are saying “no to another thing.”
Vesterlund advised that women who feel threatened by backlash from being criticized for refusing to do non-promotable tasks should give “a modified yes” and agree to do the job.
Vesterlund suggested another way to go: to accept the task once only.
Linda Babcock is her co-author. Linda allowed her to “no”, but she waited for 24 hours before she said “yes.” This allowed her to consider the consequences of accepting it.